Four Dartmouth College students have died this school year. Three were freshmen and at least two of them died by suicide. Another student died of non-COVID related medical causes.
The most recent death was just last month. In response, Dartmouth loosened its pandemic restrictions to reduce isolation, committed to bolstering its mental health services and gave students more academic flexibility. But family members of the deceased still have questions, and some friends and students say the college is doing too little, too late when it comes to mental health. Valley News reporter Nora Doyle-Burr has been following the story closely and spoke with Peter Biello about what’s unfolding on campus.
Peter Biello: So can you tell us a little bit about these first year students? Who were they?
Peter Biello: And those three students of those three, only two are confirmed to have died by suicide, correct?
Nora Doyle-Burr: That's correct.
Peter Biello: And one of those students was at home at the time and one of those students was on campus. What are the families saying right now for those two students who were confirmed to have died by suicide? What are they saying?
Nora Doyle-Burr: Beau, who died on campus, his parents are still looking for more information from the college about his death, but also the time leading up to it. Their understanding of his transition to the school, to sort of college life was that it was going fine. But they feel that that must not be the case. So they're looking to understand more about that. And Elizabeth's family say that she had been sent home due to struggles with her mental health and was not allowed to remain on campus. And they feel like that -- her being sent home from campus -- was not necessarily in her best interest. And so they are frustrated with that decision.
Peter Biello: So they wish that perhaps she was allowed to stay on campus. Or maybe I should ask, what do they wish, these two families, what do they wish that the school would have done?
Nora Doyle-Burr: So the circumstances are different. I think Elizabeth's family has kind of a collection of suggestions for improvement at the college. So in the wake of her death late last month, the college did announce a series of sort of reforms, including increasing their staffing to their mental health supports and also changing some academic deadlines. And one of those did seem related to a request that Elizabeth had made before she died. Though she was not on campus, she continued to take classes remotely and seems to have requested the non recording grade option. And so she was just looking for some academic relief. Apparently the response to her from that administrator was that the deadline to make that change was that day. That deadline ended up being extended following her death.
Peter Biello: Dartmouth announced changes after the most recent death. Those that you mentioned, including loosening pandemic restrictions on campus, adding more mental health staff and new options to help students meet their academic obligations. How have those been received?
Nora Doyle-Burr: The students, the campus, they welcome the changes. Although, they feel like they maybe came too late, and also maybe there is more that the school could do to support students as they grieve the loss of their classmates and also to support students more broadly as they sort of navigate the transition to college in their freshman year.
Peter Biello: What have you heard from students about being enrolled in such a competitive program during the pandemic? I mean, it seems like it's a stressful program anyway. And then there's the pandemic adding on to the stress.
Nora Doyle-Burr: Right, and I think every every student sort of has their own sort of mix of challenges that they're facing. I think in general, the students have missed being in classes. I think that, you know, it's a residential college and in normal times, you know, being face to face and interacting with other students and their professors is a big part of the experience, and the learning.
If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273 8255 or the crisis text line by texting HOME to 741741.